I know plenty of people who deflect criticism, never wanting to take responsibility for something they did wrong. Unfortunately, people who pass the blame are as plentiful as balls hit in the water on the island green hole at TPC Sawgrass.
I haven’t met many people in my life who deflect compliments, however. But strangely enough, I met three of them in a matter of hours during the men’s and women’s U.S. Opens at Pinehurst last month.
On the morning of the second day of the men’s tournament, I offered my congratulations to Bob Farren, Pinehurst’s director of golf course maintenance and grounds, on getting Pinehurst No. 2 in five-star condition. Farren quickly deflected the compliment to Kevin Robinson, golf course superintendent of the No. 2 Course, and his crew.
“I’m so proud of their effort. The best thing I can do is stay out of Kevin’s and the crew’s way,” Farren said.
Talk about passing the praise.
Later, while I rode with Robinson in his E-Z-GO around the course, I mentioned to him that Farren said the course was in great hands with him in charge, and that the best thing Farren could do was stay out of his way. Robinson, who’s as modest as Farren, quickly deflected the compliment to his two assistant superintendents, John Jeffreys and Alan Owen.
“They’ve been huge at organizing, planning and adjusting on the run, not to mention getting people where they need to be,” Robinson said.
Later, I mentioned to Owen what Farren said about Robinson and the crew, and what Robinson said about him and Jeffreys. And then it was Owen’s turn to buck the acclaim, saying it was the crew and volunteers that deserved the credit.
“You couldn’t ask for a better crew,” he said.
Considering their unpretentiousness, is it any wonder the two tournaments came off without a hitch from a golf course maintenance perspective? And it’s not like there weren’t a few curveballs to deal with.
Mother Nature hurled, perhaps, the most wicked pitch. Early Friday morning of the men’s tournament, about 1 inch of rain fell on Pinehurst No. 2 in about 30 minutes. It was washout city in the course’s bunkers.
But Robinson and his staff were Johnny on-the-spot, pumping water out of bunkers and raking them back to proper condition.
“They did a remarkable job,” Farren said.
Said Robinson: “We were tested a little bit with that rain. I’m so proud of the effort that everybody gave.”
When the crew arrived for work Friday at 4:30 a.m., they knew what they were in for, having dealt with heavy rains in short periods before. But Owen said they have never had to conduct such a cleanup effort in the dark.
“We couldn’t see what we were cleaning up,” Owen noted.
But as crew members got a better feel for what they were doing, they became more in sync and went about their business like … well … Martin Kaymer and Michelle Wie, who won the men’s and women’s tournaments because they were so locked in on what they were doing.
“It was like poetry in motion,” Owen said of the cleanup effort.
It was like a group of people working as a unit, with no one looking for personal accolades.
On Sunday of the men’s tournament, I was sitting in “the barn,” where maintenance staff members gathered to rest, eat and watch the tournament on TV when they weren’t working. Phil Mickelson had just finished his final round and was being interviewed on NBC.
Mickelson, who was never in contention to win the tournament and finished far behind Kaymer, still had wonderful things to say about the conditions of Pinehurst No. 2, especially the greens, which he said rolled smoothly and consistently. I’ve never heard a golfer compliment a course like Mickelson did, especially when not playing well.
As Mickelson spoke, Robinson, who happened to be in the barn at the time, craned his neck toward the mounted television to watch and listen.
“That has to make you feel pretty good,” I said to Robinson.
Robinson smiled and nodded, but he was hardly basking in the moment. He knew he still had to get the course through the women’s tournament.
We can all learn something from the Pinehurst golf maintenance team’s unpresuming approach.
Aylward can be reached at 330-723-2136 and firstname.lastname@example.org.